Women with a history of migraines appear to be less likely than other women to develop breast cancer. The results of this study were published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention.
A migraine headache often involves an intense pulsing or throbbing pain in one area of the head. The pain may be accompanied by nausea and vomiting and extreme sensitivity to light and sound.
Women are roughly three times more likely to develop migraines than men. Fluctuations in estrogen may contribute to migraines, and some women report that the frequency and intensity of their migraines is greatest around the time of menstrual bleeding, when estrogen levels are low.
Many breast cancers are also thought to be influenced by estrogen. If women with migraines have different patterns of estrogen exposure than women without migraines, it’s possible that they may also have a different risk of breast cancer.
To explore the risk of breast cancer among women with and without a history of migraines, researchers conducted a study among roughly 4,500 women with breast cancer and roughly 4,600 women without breast cancer. Information about history of migraines was collected by asking if “a doctor or other health professional ever told you that you had migraine headaches.”
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The researchers also collected information about breast cancer risk factors such as reproductive history, family history of breast cancer, body mass index, alcohol consumption, use of menopausal hormone therapy, and smoking.
Breast cancer was 26% less common in women with migraines than in women without migraines.
The reduced risk of breast cancer in women with migraines was observed among both pre- and postmenopausal women, and persisted even after the researchers accounted for factors such as alcohol and hormone use (factors that are both migraine triggers and breast cancer risk factors).
This study suggests that women with migraines may have a lower risk of breast cancer than women without migraines. The reasons for this reduction in risk remain uncertain. Furthermore, even if the reduced risk is confirmed, it will be important for women with migraines to continue to receive recommended breast cancer screening.
 National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. NINDS Migraine Information Page. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/migraine/migraine.htm. Accessed July 10, 2009.
 Li CI, Mathes RW, Malone KE et al. Relationship between migraine history and breast cancer risk among premenopausal and postmenopausal women. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention. 2009;18:2030-4.
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